East Bay gym owner, restaurateurs among those defying California health orders

A gym owner in the East Bay is openly defying an earlier public health order that bans gyms in Contra Costa County from operating indoors.

In fact, the county has fined Diablo Crossfit in Pleasant Hill more than $1,700. Owner Craig Howard said that the high ceilings, the large commercial fans and other measures makes his gym as safe as if it were outdoors. 

"Our plan is to be open tomorrow and be open the next day," he told KTVU on Sunday. "We've received three fines from the county. I expect they will be back."

Customers have started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the citations.

And he's not the only Californian defying new shut-down orders to curb the surging coronavirus. 

Brenda Luntey is openly violating California’s order to close her restaurant to indoor dining. But she wants her customers and critics to know she isn’t typically a rule-breaker. It’s a matter of survival.

“This is my first episode of civil disobedience in my entire life. My whole family is in law enforcement. I’m a follow-the-rules kind of person,” said Luntey, owner of San Francisco Deli, a popular sandwich shop in Redding, more than 200 miles north of the restaurant’s namesake city.

It’s in northern Shasta County, one of several rural California counties that appeared to dodge the virus in the spring but are now seeing some of the most alarming spikes in COVID-19 infections statewide. In an effort to avoid overwhelming hospitals, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a strict new shutdown order that has taken effect in many other parts of California and will likely soon affect Shasta County.

But outside California’s big cities, especially in conservative areas, the backlash against tough new restrictions is growing, and some sheriffs say they won’t enforce health orders.

Luntey is not a virus skeptic. She washes her hands so much they’re raw. But she shrugs off the idea of a stay-at-home order that shutters businesses. She watched other restaurants collapse, and she and her husband, both in their 70s, cannot afford that.

“I want people to understand we are not thumbing our nose at the government,” Luntey said. “I’m trying to keep my business alive.”

The strict new shutdown order in California took effect starting Sunday in Southern California, much of the San Francisco Bay Area and a vast swath of the Central Valley. The new measures, which include a stay-at-home order and widespread business closures, are triggered in any region that crosses an ICU capacity threshold of 85%. The rest of the state is on the brink of the same restrictions.

“If we don’t act now, we will continue to see our death rate climb,” Newsom said.

Tough in tone, his orders lack enforcement, which is frustrating for health officials issuing local guidance — often to no avail.

In a pre-Thanksgiving Facebook post, Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini asked people to be responsible but said he “will not be enforcing the compliance of any health or emergency orders related to curfews, stay at home orders, Thanksgiving or other social gatherings” or mask mandates. Several sheriffs in other areas have made similar statements.

In Sutter County, “we’re not running around arresting people, so it’s all about personal responsibility,” said Smith of the COVID-19 response center. “But can you tell me a law enforcement agency anywhere in California that is enforcing this?”

Some officials in the San Francisco Area are handing out tickets and fines.

Many in rural California were lulled into a false sense of security early in the pandemic when the virus seemed to hit mostly cities. Counties with low virus rates last spring objected to a one-size-fits-all shutdown.

Jocelyn Gecker and Rich Pedroncelli from the Associated Press contributed to this report.